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Supporting Teens with ADHD

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Supporting Teens with ADHD

As parents, we likely sense what statistics confirm. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is on the rise. According to data reported in The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 received an ADHD diagnosis in 2011 and 69 percent of these 6.4 million youth took medication to treat ADHD. These figures represent approximately 2 million more children with ADHD than the number reported in 2003.

Many teens do NOT outgrow ADHD.

According to WebMD, most people who are diagnosed with ADHD as children still struggle with it as teens. Given the hormonal changes that mark adolescence, WebMD warns parents that their children’s symptoms may even get worse. Symptoms in teens are similar to those in younger children. They include:

  • Distractibility
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

Additional concerns for parents of teens with ADHD.

Virtually all parents of teens are apprehensive about pressures on their children to experiment with alcohol and drugs as well as drive or ride with a peer under the influence. WebMD reports that ADHD raises these risks, especially if left untreated. Teens with ADHD are more likely to:

  • Drink heavily
  • Abuse drugs other than marijuana
  • And have a car accident

But there is good news. According to psychiatrist Dr. Robert C. Nardone of Massachusetts, teens that are properly treated for ADHD are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than peers without ADHD. In addition, WebMD advises that getting the right treatment for ADHD may reduce the risk of alcohol and drug problems in adult life.

Treatment for teens.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 80 percent of youth who required medication to treat their ADHD as children still need medication as teens. The organization endorses behavior therapy in addition to medication. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry all recommend behavior therapy to improve behavior problems that are a part of ADHD.

Parents may also be interested in investigating alternative therapies, including nutritional and brain-training treatments often used in conjunction with, not a replacement for, medication and behavior therapy. WebMD offers information on nutritional treatments. While there is no conclusive data on the efficacy of these treatments, ADHD expert Dr. Richard Sogn reasons that whatever is good for the brain is likely to also be good for treating ADHD. He recommends teens with ADHD eat:

  • A high-protein diet, including beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts. Include protein in the morning and after school to improve concentration and possibly increase the time medications work.
  • Fewer simple carbohydrates, such as candy, corn syrup, honey, sugar, products made from white flour, and white rice.
  • More complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and some fruits (including oranges, tangerines, pears, grapefruit, apples, and kiwis).
  • More omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in tuna, salmon, other cold-water white fish, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and olive and canola oils, and Omega-3 fatty acids in supplement form.

Dr. Sogn also suggests that teens (and children and adults) with ADHD take a 100% vitamin and mineral supplement each day, as many do not eat a balanced diet.

The magazine ADDitude: Living Well With Attention Deficit offers an overview of four brain-training therapies:

  • Electrotherapy stimulation, which sends low-energy electrical current powered by a small handheld battery-powered device to the skin and scalp muscles.
  • Low-energy neurofeedback, which a practitioner administers to under-connected and over-connected areas of the brain using radio frequencies.
  • Working memory training, video game format software used over an established schedule.
  • Interactive metronome, a set of hand and foot exercises synchronized to precise computer-generated tones delivered through headphones.

You’ve likely also heard about Luminosity, a web site that claims to improve cognitive function. Developed by neuroscientists, the company’s games are intended to improve speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving. While not designed specifically for people with ADHD, several studies on the Luminosity site claim the tool improves working memory, visual attention, and executive function—areas many teens with ADHD also struggle with. As is the case with nutritional therapy, the efficacy of cognitive training for treating ADHD isn’t conclusive, but worth investigating in conjunction with your teen’s doctors and counselors.

Guidance for parents and teens.

The following resources can help you get informed and stay up-to-date on new developments:

  • The magazine ADDitude: Living Well with Attention Deficit includes content written specifically for high school students and their parents. The magazine also offers a free publication titled, “Alternative ADHD Treatment.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Service Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers a free publication, Treatment Options for ADHD in Children and Teens: A Review of Research for Parents and Caregivers. The report focuses on two categories of treatment—Non-medicine treatments: parental behavior training, psychosocial therapy and school-based programs, and Medicines: stimulants and non-stimulants, including brand name and generic options, side effects, dosing options, and costs.
  • The National Resource Center on ADHD, a program of Children and Adults with ADHD supported by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, offers guidance through their help line 1-800-233-4050 and web site www.help4adhd.org.
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